‘Good people drink good beer’ says the sign, hanging from the whitewashed wall of Unit 22, a low, anonymous building on the Jane Street Industrial Estate. “That was the first thing that went up,” says Patrick Jones, leaning on a five-foot length of white piping, either taken from or about to be added to his fledgling brewkit. It’s a good credo to go by, and a message that would serve any start-up brewery well. Pat is one half of Pilot, Edinburgh’s latest brewery, and the first to be located in Leith for many years (since, by my reckoning, the Leith/Argyle Brewery that existed on Arthur Street in the 1980’s).* It’s great to see brewing back in the neighbourhood, and both Pat and Pilot co-founder Matt Johnson are delighted to be a part of the continuing revival of the area. “There’s a little creative community here,” says Matt, nodding towards the music studio next door, and the bakery around the corner. “We really want to be a part of that.”
*I could be wrong, though
It makes sense for a brewery to appear in Leith, given the surging growth in new bars and renovated drinking houses in the area. Pilot intend to start with, and focus on, cask ale – and there’s no shortage of potential customers nearby. “The pub at the corner there is actually for sale, too,” continues Matt. “But it’s probably too early to start thinking of getting a brewpub.” Forward thinking is admirable, certainly, but the Pilot guys are both realists, given the amount of work that needs to be done. As I was there, they were busy preparing for the serious business of engineers arriving to fit and connect the extractor flues, and then shortly afterwards, grinding out the drainage system. Previously, the unit was a storage warehouse, so transition to brewing was reasonably easy, permit-wise, but a pristine (if old) concrete floor will have to be sliced open before any brewing can begin.
“The problem is, we had to put the tanks in first, and then work the drainage – it would have been great to cut the channels at the beginning, but we couldn’t do it that way,” says Pat. Anyone who’s ever opened a brewery knows how many hurdles have to be overcome – for Pilot, logistics seem to have been one of the most difficult. As two recent graduates from the Heriot-Watt brewing conveyor, they managed to get hold of a brewkit that several others have enquired about in the recent past – the semi-derelict 5 barrel kit from McCowan’s Brewhouse (now simply McCowan’s) in Fountainbridge. The rigmarole they had to go through to get the deal signed required another, nail-biting, Catch-22 moment; negotiating for a brewkit at the same time as working out an agreement for the space in which to put it. Thankfully, neither fell through, and Pilot now have the gear they wanted in their own unit.
I never actually had any of the beers brewed at McCowan’s, but the kit looks very nice – it actually reminds me a little of the minions in Despicable Me – the problems relate to the unusual layout of their previous stable. The triangular, pointed brewing area in Fountainbridge required all kinds of right-angled pipework, strange cladding, and intricate wiring. As we chatted, pretty much all of that was lying splayed on the floor of the industrial unit, as the guys try to work out what can be salvaged, and what scrapped. Apparently, there was even traces of beer in some of the pipes, although given how long it had been there, it was probably nearer to Edinburgh Chippy Sauce. Matt and Pat are sanguine about all this, and shrug off the teething problems involved, as all being part of the game – just as a seagull clatters noisily across the plastic roof above.
Next thing for the pair is to buy a supply of casks and a cask-washer, and then the pilot Pilot beers can be created. Understandably, Matt and Pat weren’t going to reveal recipes and exact details of future brewsheets, but expect a range of modern, hop-forward cask ales with an emphasis on added ingredients, both usual and inventive. If everything goes to plan, Pilot’s beers should appear within the next couple of months, and following that, hopefully in other dispenses alongside cask. As their branding is still ongoing, before their website and Facebook/Twitter feeds go live follow Pat’s Twitter feed for updates. It’s great to see beer-making return to Leith, and Edinburgh gain yet another producer. Pilot are arriving on the scene at the best possible moment.